Concerns about unintended negative consequences of informing the public about multifactorial risks may be premature for young adult smokers

Erika A. Waters, Caroline Kincaid, Annette R. Kaufman, Michelle L. Stock, Laurel M. Peterson, Nicole L. Muscanell, Rosanna E. Guadagno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background Many health risks are associated with both genetic and behavioural factors. Concerns have been raised that learning about such multifactorial risks might have detrimental effects on health-related beliefs, cognitions, and affect. However, experimental evidence is sparse. Objective To explore the effects of reading an online news article about the discovery of a genetic basis for nicotine addiction.

Methods Smokers (N = 333) were recruited from the psychology subject pools of two major universities. Participants were randomly assigned to read one of three news articles: one describing a genetic basis for nicotine addiction and lung cancer obtained from a national news source, one altered to indicate no genetic basis for nicotine addiction and lung cancer, or one unrelated attention control. Participants then completed an online questionnaire, which assessed smoking-related cognitions and affect, and beliefs about nicotine addiction, quitting smoking, and whether the harms of tobacco use are delayed.

Results There was no statistically significant influence of experimental condition on smoking-related cognitions/affect (ps >.05, η2 <.002), beliefs about addiction and quitting (Wilks' λ =.98, p =.66, η2 =.01), or delayed harm (ps >.05, η2 <.002). Conclusion Reading an online news article about the presence or absence of a genetic basis for nicotine addiction was not found to change smoking-related cognitions/affect or beliefs among young adult smokers. Concerns about negative effects of multifactorial risk information on health beliefs may be premature. Nevertheless, to effectively translate basic genomics research into effective public health practice, further research should investigate these issues in different populations, via different communication modalities, and for different health outcomes. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Information about the health implications of the interaction between genetics and behaviour is becoming prevalent. Learning about these interactions may reduce perceived risk and intentions to engage in health behaviours. What does this study add? Informing young adult smokers about the genetic basis for nicotine addiction does not affect health beliefs negatively. Responses are not moderated by endorsing the idea of genetic causation or current/experimenter smoking status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-736
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Volume19
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Keywords

  • attitudes
  • behaviour
  • gene-by-environment
  • genetic
  • multifactorial
  • smoking
  • tobacco use

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